Universities move into the digital age with campus maps

Those foldable maps handed out at university orientation are getting a welcome upgrade.

February 28, 2019

Universities worldwide are investing in digital maps to help students navigate sprawling campuses, another sign that technology is pushing into all corners of the built environment.

From maps in phone apps, to the type of interactive digital signs used in shopping malls, the tools aim to enhance a student’s experience and safety, says Michael Taggart, head of Technology Solutions, JLL Australia.

“So much of a student’s experience at a university is moulded during their first couple of weeks on campus, which can be daunting enough without getting confused or lost,” he says. “Using digital tools to know where to go and what is along the way will help them navigate seamlessly and safely, and in the long term they are far more likely to enjoy and be successful in their studies.”

“Using digital tools to know where to go and what is along the way will help students navigate the unversity campus seamlessly and safely”

Melbourne University recently launched digital navigation that can be updated in real time to help students and staff find their way around its multiple campuses.

The University of Technology Sydney invested in physical and digital wayfinding to integrate its buildings and surrounding cityscape following a $1billion campus redevelopment.

At Uppsala University in Sweden, digital wayfinding has been embedded within the university’s timetable system.

The increasing investment in this technology comes at a time when the student experience is paramount for universities under pressure to prove their mettle among the world’s best.

However, wayfinding technology can benefit more than just the student. The data it can provide, including patterns of how people move around, is valuable for design and communication decisions, adds Taggart.

“The kind of amenities, services and activities universities should provide, and where they should be located to provide students with the most enjoyable experiences can be decisions based on data, rather than the all too common ‘what experience tells us’ approach,” he says.

Student comfort first

“Like a city without Google maps.”

That was one student’s assessment of Melbourne University before it introduced digital navigation.

By running its own digital platform informed by data sets including construction documentation and floor plans already managed in house, the university can make updates in real time allowing students to find best routes both within buildings and in the broader campus area, whether students are on or off campus.

“The absolute core driver of this project was providing students with an enhanced campus experience,” says Jade Germantis, the university’s Program Manager in Spatial Analytics.

“Our campus is like a small complex city, with refurbishment and redevelopment projects ongoing. Given the abundant amount of construction on campus and outside of it, these major pathway disruptions presented an opportunity to leverage technology to enhance the physical wayfinding experience.”

Investment in education

In Australia, many students can pay over $30,000 a year for university, a figure that has kept on rising. For that investment students expect better facilities and better support to help them succeed.

The incentives for universities to up their game is a slice of a booming international education industry for universities to tap into. In Australia it’s worth $32 billion a year, according to Austrade.

“The risk of doing nothing is that students find moving between point A and point B is so onerous they’ll spend their fees elsewhere,” says Taggart.

Boosting connectivity

In defiance of Australia’s reputation as a “broadband backwater,” a growing number of universities are striking partnerships with major technology companies to install advanced WiFi infrastructure.

“When students come to campus they expect WiFi to be ubiquitous, to stream shows, post on social media and download class material,” says Taggart.

As well as being integral to the student experience, enhanced connectivity is paving the way for an even greater number of digital wayfinding projects, plus location-based communication and heat mapping.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology last year enlisted Aruba to deliver a wireless network that would cover the university’s Melbourne City campus including 150 buildings, which account for 8 per cent of all the buildings in Melbourne’s city centre.

With tuition fees at an all-time high and competition among universities for top students fiercer than ever, high-quality university experiences, including a means to navigate campus seamlessly, are more than a marketing tool, says Taggart.

“They are essential for keeping students happy, enhancing their learning experience and promoting the university’s brand.”